memory, running

Leap: Remembering the Chicago Marathon

11 years ago this weekend I ran the Chicago marathon. I was working in Chicago on the National Tour of the Full Monty. It was an uncertain time. September 11th happened while I was there and many of us were from New York. We felt like traders being away from our city at a time when it needed us so much. The threat of our show closing and the idea of losing our jobs hung over all of us every day. (These concerns came true just days later.)

It’s funny what we remember during challenging times. My friend and running partner, Mark, was a rock for me during training and during the race. I may have designed all of our training runs for 13 weeks but he was the one who held it all together for both of us, especially when the going got tough. For me, that happened on race day around mile 18. I was really hurting and Mark asked me this simple question, “Tell me about your dad.”

During a training run months before I had mentioned to Mark that the only time I ever thought my dad was really proud of me was when I ran. Mark wanted to know the whole story, and now at mile 18 we had plenty of time. Mark also knew I needed a serious distraction to get to the end of the race.

Running and my history with my dad are deeply entwined. When I was 16, I had a series of injuries that piled up during pre-season training that left me unable to walk for a few months and took me out of the season. 2 months later, my dad passed away suddenly and tragically. I continued to run for the following year, but I gave up any hope or desire to run while in college. The fight just went out of me.

In many ways, I ran that Chicago marathon for him and for the 16-year-old me who missed all those races years before. It was a reminder of my strength and my ability to endure. It was ironic that this would happen at what was such a low point for our nation. I will never forget the warmth, love, and support from the people of Chicago who lined the race route. They were there with cowbells, signs, and happy shouts of encouragement. I vividly remember a young women who had a huge bowl of popcorn for runners to take from as they went by and another young woman who was passing out orange slices from her front yard. It was a good, good day.

When the finish line came into sight, Mark and I had to split because they separate men and women for timing purposes at the end of the race. I took off. I felt like I was flying toward the finish. In that mad, happy dash, I shook off a lot of sadness and regret. I let go of a lot of “what might have been”s in favor of a whole lot more “look what’s up ahead”s. It was a life-affirming moment that I’ll never forget. And I owe it all to Mark and to the beautiful people of Chicago.

Happy race day to all of the runners out there, making their own memories today. I hope it’s as good to you as it was to me.